A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory is, according to a review in The Guardian, “thriller writing of the very highest order”. High praise indeed, but one Amazon reviewer, “Jelly Bean”, goes further. Ellory’s story of a man who as a child was at the centre of a series of brutal killings of young girls is “one of the most moving books I’ve ever read”, Ellory is “one of the most talented authors of today” and “his ability to craft the English language is breathtaking”.
Too much? No, because Amazon reviewer “Nicodemus Jones” agrees: the book is a “modern masterpiece”, and “whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul”. A reader wondering whether or not to make a purchase might be convinced by this breathless praise: the only problem is, Jelly Bean and Nicodemus Jones are both the pseudonyms of Ellory himself, who was outed this week by fellow crime writer Jeremy Duns as the author of 12 glowingly positive write-ups of his own books on Amazon, as well as two reviews critical of his fellow crime authors Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride. MacBride’s novel Dark Blood is, according to Ellory’s pseudonymous review, “another in the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK”.
On Monday, Ellory took responsibility for the reviews and apologised for his actions, both publicly to his fans and privately to Billingham and MacBride, but this has been a bad year altogether for the credibility of authors and online book reviewing. It started when the bestselling thriller writer Stephen Leather admitted at the Harrogate crime festival to using various names online, and even having conversations with himself, to build buzz about his novels, sparking a huge debate among authors about the ethics of the practice known as “sock puppeting”.
Leather was shown by Duns to have set up a fake Twitter account in the name of a fellow author who had criticised his books. Then came Ellory, following dishonourably in the footsteps of Orlando Figes, who two years ago was found to have been disparaging rivals and vaunting his own works on Amazon. Meanwhile, the Northern Irish crime writer Stuart Neville has accused the author Sam Millar of a series of vicious pseudonymous Amazon attacks on his work, since strongly denied by Millar.
“It’s a very long, slippery slope,” says the crime author (and Guardian reviewer) Laura Wilson, who believes she too has been the victim of Millar’s attacks after she wrote a less-than-flattering review of his latest book in The Guardian. “For donkey’s years you’ve had people like [the satirical magazine] Private Eye pointing out that so-and-so puffed so-and-so’s book because they’re buddies,” she says. “But this – and it’s not just crime fiction which is affected – puts it into a new and rather horrible arena.”
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Sydney Morning Herald